Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday again denied putting any pressure on government personnel to favor an Okayama-based school operator chaired by one of his closest friends.
He claimed that the selection processes used for the special deregulation project in Shikoku “were executed properly based on related laws and ordinances.”
“Pressure was never put on the processes. I’d like to make it clear first,” Abe told the Upper House.
It was the first time Abe has expressed his denials in public since Kihei Maekawa, a former top official at the education ministry, held an explosive news conference Thursday in Tokyo to allege that the selection processes were “distorted” by officials in the Cabinet Office who cited “the prime minister’s intent” in steering the Shikoku veterinary project to Kake Gakuen, whose official English name is Kake Educational Institution.
In January, the government approved Kake Gakuen’s application to open an animal medicine department at the Ehime branch of Okayama University of Science, a private school Kake Gakuen runs in Okayama Prefecture. The new department would be based at the nearby branch in Imabari, Ehime Prefecture.
The approval was the first of its type in 52 years because Japan already has enough veterinarians to meet demand, meaning state permission is needed to open any new animal medicine department, according to the government. Opposition lawmakers suspect Kake Gakuen was granted permission as it is chaired by Kotaro Kake, one of Abe’s closest friends.
Addressing the House of Councilors, Abe claimed that Kake Gakuen’s project was approved as part of his reform drive to remove “bedrock regulations” that have been long protected by vested interests.
“When you try to reform bedrock regulations, you always face resistance forces . . . but the Abe Cabinet will never be daunted by any such forces,” Abe said.
The Democratic Party of Japan, which was in power from 2009 through 2012, had also considered easing the rules to select Kake Gakuen for the project, Abe said.
At Thursday’s news conference, Maekawa vouched for the authenticity of eight documents allegedly produced by education ministry officials and circulating among media and political circles.
The papers quote Cabinet Office officials as saying “the prime minister’s intent” is to let Kake Gakuen open the new veterinary department as soon as possible. The papers prompted the opposition to request that a search be conducted to find the documents on the ministry’s computers.
Abe, however, said the education ministry had already conducted an investigation and did not find any of the documents.
“I am aware that the existence of the documents was not confirmed,” Abe said.
The opposition parties have demanded that a willing Maekawa be invited to give sworn testimony in the Diet. Abe said that such a matter is to be decided by the Diet, not the prime minister.
Public reaction to the Kake Gakuen affair and Maekawa’s explosive testimony appears to be negative, but one media poll shows that the Cabinet’s support rate remains relatively high.
The latest poll, conducted by the Nikkei business daily and TV Tokyo Corp. from Thursday through Sunday, showed the approval rate down 4 points to 56 percent compared with the previous poll conducted in April.